The EU struggled to apply a “differentiated” approach to Algeria and Morocco. But the Arab Awakening may have increased its leverage in these countries.
Europe’s relations with Algeria and Morocco continue to be driven by a handful of member states, in particular France, Italy and Spain. Relative stability there gave the EU a chance to test its new “differentiated” approach, which was meant to reward substantial efforts to reform. Both countries feared isolation and were keen to get recognition for initiating reform, which gave the EU some leverage. France, which held the G8 presidency, was keen to reassure its partners that Morocco’s reform plans were real, even though it was clear by the autumn that the monarchy intended to retain wide executive powers. Although other member states were more sceptical, the EU in general welcomed the constitutional referendum and parliamentary elections, and did not pay too much attention to the ongoing protests. Meanwhile, increased engagement elsewhere in the region meant that, for the first time in years, Morocco did not receive the highest level of financial assistance in the region.
The EU also welcomed the few positive signals in Algeria, including the lifting of the emergency law, an invitation for external observers to the 2012 parliamentary elections, increased political dialogue, and openness towards the revamped ENP. However, substantial reform is still far off. The European Commission showed some flexibility on financial co-operation by reallocating part of its funds (€58 million in total) from infrastructure to youth, employment and civil society, but continued to struggle in trade talks with Algeria, particularly for industrial products where some member states have important stakes. Thus, although the Arab Awakening has been a reality check for Algeria, it will continue to be a difficult partner. Finally, Europe continues to be divided and passive on the Western Sahara conflict and on regional co-operation, where it could play a more determined role. In short, the Arab Awakening created an opportunity for Europe, but it has not yet taken full advantage of it.